Be the media

Local media activists make television, not war

Media Edge producer Steve Kolb won a Western Access Video Excellence award for his documentary about the “Eyes Wide Open” war memorial at the Capitol last spring.

Media Edge producer Steve Kolb won a Western Access Video Excellence award for his documentary about the “Eyes Wide Open” war memorial at the Capitol last spring.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Anybody can take a camcorder to a speech or a demonstration. But crafting a decent documentary or piece of television journalism—something that will keep the viewer from changing the channel—is another matter.

If you’ve spent any time watching public-access television, you’ve noticed the difference. The great promise of public access is that it can democratize the media landscape, allowing under-represented viewpoints and unheard voices into our living rooms. The great drawback of public access, of course, is that a lot of it is really hard to watch.

Then there’s Media Edge, a locally produced documentary program that airs on Access Sacramento and Davis Community Television on Sundays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The show is unapologetically lefty, dwelling in particular on issues of the Iraq War and the anti-war movement at home. But it also has a polish to it that stands out in the public-access milieu. It’s not as slick as PBS by any means, but it’s a far cry from Wayne’s World.

Consider producer Steve Kolb’s “Eyes Wide Open,” an eight minute “visual tone poem” about the “Eyes Wide Open” tribute to the Iraq War dead that was held at the capitol grounds last summer.

Kolb said the piece was put together on the fly: “We had this eight minute hole to fill in our broadcast.” So, he took his cameras out to the grounds of Capitol Park to record the reactions of visitors to the exhibit—hundreds of pairs of boots and shoes spread on the grass to represent the U.S. and Iraqi casualties in the war. In one scene, a tough-looking bearded man begins weeping as a young boy looks at him with what appears to be a mixture of concern and confusion.

The piece wouldn’t be out of place in an indie film festival, or even on PBS. And, in fact, the segment just won a Western Access Video Excellence award—which recognizes the best in public-access programming. The progressives, it appears, have discovered production values.

“The expectation of public access is that it’s low quality and amateurish. We’re definitely focused on quality,” Kolb explains.

The program debuted last spring, and came together quickly after a group of local activists despaired over the re-election of George W. Bush.

They blamed the media.

“I really feel that the media is one of the places that people can make a difference,” said Mary Brasell, who has taken her camera to Land Park to document the First Amendment showdown over protest art at Stephen and Virginia Pearcy’s house and as far as Washington, D.C., for the anti-war protests of September 26.

Media Edge also provides a showcase for documentaries like Beyond Treason, which links depleted uranium to Gulf War Syndrome. The Media Edge crew also produced their own companion piece to the film with scientist Leuren Moret called Connecting the Dots.

Beyond Treason won the Berkeley Video and Film Festival this year, but you won’t find it at Netflix anytime soon. “Public television won’t touch this puppy,” noted Media Edge producer Randy Van Dalsen.

The group of media-activist volunteers won’t put a dent in the ratings of VH1 or Comedy Central anytime soon. But Kolb thinks it can get at least a few more people to tune in. “There’s really this great sense of empowerment” he said. “If we can affect one person who will go and vote, or donate money to a cause, that’s worth it to me.”